The incumbent Unity Labour Party (ULP) on Saturday launched what party leader, Ralph Gonsalves, described as the “Maccabees version” of its manifesto for the Dec. 9 general election.
Gonsalves launched the unabridged version of the manifesto which is available online, and said that the hardcopy version will be distributed next week.
The hard copy, he told party supporters at a rally in Campden Park, is “not as long, with all the ideas, all the proposal.
“That will be the King James version,” he said.
“Tonight, what we are launching is the most comprehensive, the most detailed, the most compelling developmental programme ever offered by any political party at any election in the history of the Caribbean,” Gonsalves said of the 66-page document.
The ULP is seeking a fourth consecutive term in office, and Gonsalves said there has been nothing like the manifesto before.
“And to beat what we have put online would require a very special Herculean effort,” he told party supporters.
“I repeat, we are launching tonight with Labour love, in grand style, our online version of the manifesto. The most compelling developmental narrative, based on our vision, which is people-centred, our philosophy of social democracy applied to our circumstances in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the detailed policies and programmes to further uplift this country.”
He said the manifesto builds on the manifestos of 2001, 2005, 2010.
“It builds upon and takes its starting point from our 2013 development plan,” he said in reference to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Economic
and Social Development Plan: 2013-2025.
“There is no set of policy to be put out by anyone which does not have to have as its starting point the development plans which we have laid out overall and in the particular sector and from which the manifesto draws sustenance for the next five years,” Gonsalves said.
He said that readers will find in the manifesto “a summary as to the opening of the Argyle International Airport very shortly”.
The manifesto said that the EC$729 million airport, which has missed completion deadlines annually since 2011, will become operational “very soon”.
“We are ensuring that all the “Is” are dotted and the “Ts” crossed for its imminent opening. International and regional airlines will fly in and out. All relevant managerial, operational and procedural systems and personnel are either in place, or being put in place for the takeoff of the Argyle International Airport,” the manifesto says of the airport, which has been under construction for almost eight years.
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Gonsalves noted that test flights were conducted on Thursday.
“And, it is at hand – the formal opening of the Argyle International Airport. And you have to make sure that the Comrade and the ULP are there to finalise it, that the Comrade and the ULP are there to cut the ribbon and to see the first big jet land down at Argyle International Airport to go into the hotels,” Gonsalves said.
State officials said on Thursday that remaining work at the airport includes the paving of one-third of the 9,000-foot runway, but said the work will be complete in two and a half months.
But an engineer, who told I-Witness News in August 2014 that the airport would have taken about two more years to complete, said after the test flight on Thursday that the airport is more likely to be complete around this time next year.
Gonsalves also mentioned the proposed new city and a modern acute referral hospital to be built at the site of the E.T. Joshua Airport when it is decommissioned after the Argyle Airport begins operating.
The ULP leader also said his government will relocate Port Kingstown to Rose Place, and will build a new cruise ship terminal in Arnos Vale.
“There is the geothermal project which will bring 12 megawatts of power by the end of 2018 and make electricity between 15 and 25 per cent cheaper for you in your homes and make our economy more competitive.”
Gonsalves said there will be expansion of the medical schools which have already grown from 250 students to almost 1,000.
He said the expansion will provide economic linkages through rental of houses and apartments, and the spending of money, generally.
“Then, there is a special section in the manifesto on cultural industries and sporting industries and the national stadium.”
There will be tourism development, Gonsalves said, adding that the government has investors who are coming to build three hotels of between 1,200 and 1,500 rooms at Mt Wynne-Peters Hope.
“And we have the flights to come with them — Karisma Hotel and Thomson Holidays out of the United Kingdom.”
Also at Mt Wynne-Peters Hope, Canadian investors are negotiating the construction of high-class villas on the site above the road, to be built and sold to wealthy people, Gonsalves said.
“And they will be used in turn to accommodate tourists who want to get high-class villas to stay in.”
Tourism expansion continues in the north of the southern Grenadine island of Canouan and in the south of the island a marina and real estate development in which the government has shares is continuing.
Gonsalves said a large number of people additionally are expected to be employed there.
In Bequia, some hotels have started, some are expanded and there are others to come. An investor is lined up to build a hotel on 100 acres of land at Chatham Bay, Union Island that the government recently repossessed.
A Guyanese investor is interested in investing in Emerald Valley Casino and Resort at Penniston, which the government has bought.
“… the investment over the next few years will come up to over US$750 million. At Mt Wynne-Peters Hope, it will be US$250 million; in Canouan, a further US$200 million; in Bequia, US$70 million; in Union Island, US$150 million; in Mayreau, US$40 million; at Emerald Valley Casino and Resort, US$25 million.”
The manifesto outlines the government’s programme on agriculture and fisheries and the manufacturing sector, which Gonsalves said has had an uptick because of special incentives, including duty-free concession on all raw materials.
An investor from Guyana will establish a pharmaceutical company in SVG. The investor has 250 products, including Limacol, Gonsalves said.
He also reiterated that he has negotiated EC$420 million for roads, bridges, sea and river defences for “the largest road reconstruction programme you will ever see in this country,” he said, adding that equipment from Argyle airport will be used for this purpose.
Gonsalves said that he sent off, three days ago, an acceptance of the terms for nearly US$14 million from the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development for roads in the agricultural areas, feeder roads, and village roads.
Officials from the fund will visit SVG in January to finalise the arrangement, he said.
“I tell you this, all over the country, you are going to see a road repair programme, a road reconstruction programme, sea and river defences the likes of which this country has never ever seen, and you know when I promise you something, we always deliver.”
The ULP is promising, if returned to office, to consolidate and extend their education, health and housing “revolutions” and to clean up and rebuild Kingstown, including Little Tokyo and China Town, both of which have been in a state of disrepair for years.
“And I want to tell you this. We have the resources already lined up with the relevant agencies to do the work.
The manifesto contains a series of provisions on disaster management and climate change, Gonsalves said.
He reiterated that the ULP will declare Campden Park as the seventh town in St. Vincent and will do so in conjunction with the private sector, to have better localised services for people from Lowmans Hill to Rillan Hill.
“The projects which we have and the developments on the horizon, we will do better than we have done in job creation,” he said, adding that his government has created 8,000 jobs since coming to office in 2001.
“And we would have done more but for the fact of the natural disasters, but for the fact that we had the global economic crisis and problem with CLICO and BAICO. And as you know, we have weathered those economic storms and we have put things, and we are on the way up. And you see how things are coming together beautifully for a better harvest,” Gonsalves said.
“You know, we give you very specific things which are real, which we have been working on, in the same way that they are giving the Argyle International Airport.”
He also reiterated that if critics do not stop “badmouthing” the airport he will land a LIAT aircraft there before the Dec. 9 general elections.
Gonsalves defended the use of a small plane to conduct the test at the airport.
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“They’re foolish. You don’t test approach light with a jumbo jet. You want to tell the experts how they must do their tests? The Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority, doing their work within the context of the international Civil Aviation Organisation. IF they don’t know these things, why they don’t ask Ralph?
“And I want to tell you this. Very shortly, when I have already dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t’, and I’m doing that right now, I will tell you the date when we will be opening the Argyle International Airport,” Gonsalves said.
He said the points he mentioned are among the central plans contained in the manifesto.
“We have plans in it to deal with poverty and zero hunger,” he said and promised that by the end of the next five years, no one in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will go to bed hungry.
“We have reduced poverty and indigence and we have lifted the level of nutrition in the country and all the experts have commended us for this internationally.”
Gonsalves said there will be a “better harvest” if the ULP is re-elected but a “bitter harvest” if the main opposition New Democratic Party is elected.
“It might sound like a little difference, a difference between an ‘e’ and an ‘i’… And I tell you this, they say it in their manifesto and Eustace already say it in Parliament that he will be Mr. Austerity. You know what austerity mean? Cutting.”
The NDP says in its manifesto that it has examined the nation’s fiscal situation and has agreed that there is “a need for a prudent mixture of stimulus and austerity measures aimed at improving our economic growth rate”.
To do this, the NDP says it will appoint a committee on public financing and debt to conduct a full and early review of the government’s financial position. The Committee will report within the first two months of the NDP administration.
An NDP administration will also float a bond issue of between EC$30 million and EC$40 million to pay off the arrears to both the private sector and the civil service.
The NDP is also proposing to reducing the salaries of all Parliamentarians until the economic situation improves and to reduce fees for all directors of all statutory boards and government-owned companies.
It will remove the VAT on basic foods as well as enter into discussion with the public service unions with respect to expenditure management control and the reduction of wastage in the public sector.
Asked about austerity measures at the launch of the manifesto this week, NDP president, Arnhim Eustace said:
“Our focus is going to be on increased efficiency of operation. There is too much slackness in the system now where government funds are being diverted for purposes for which they should not be used.
“Right now, for instance, we can’t tell you what the PetroCaribe debt is, but the money is being spent. Where is it going? You have international institutions, international banks telling you that the debt is 900 million and our figures have one hundred and something million. So we have to have significant increased efficiency in our operations. There is too much wastage in the system. If you want to call it austerity, then do so.”
The NDP manifesto says an NDP administration will provide stimuli to all the major productive sectors of the economy with a view to achieving a current account surplus and an overall deficit not exceeding 3 per cent of GDP within three years.
Gonsalves said that between 1991 and 2001, when the local and global economic circumstances were better, unemployment increased from 19 per cent to 21 per cent under the NDP.
“And because of austerity and the cuts they will put in place, you will suffer,” Gonsalves said.
He went on to list social and other programme that he said the NDP will cut or eliminate if elected to office.
The NDP said has repeatedly said that it will not cut these programme, and, in some areas, will expand them.
Gonsalves said that his government has increased the minimum wage twice since coming to office in 2001, and will do so again in the New Year, if re-elected, but the NDP increased it once in its 17 years in office.
The ULP is the third of the fourth political parties contesting the elections to launch a manifesto.
The NDP launched its manifesto online some weeks ago and released the hard copy on Wednesday.
The small Democratic Republican Party (DRP) also launched its manifesto on Wednesday.